Days of Zondo

Meet the Watsons: They will make the Guptas look like amateurs

By Ferial Haffajee 16 January 2019
Caption
Screenshot: Angelo Agrizzi, former Bosasa chief operations officerm testifies at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, 16 January 2019. eNCA livestream/Youtube

Thirty-eight politicians and senior government officials will be named in evidence before the State Capture inquiry as being implicated in corrupt relationships with Bosasa, a company belonging to an ANC luminary family called the Watsons.

Bosasa’s former COO Angelo Agrizzi, currently testifying before the Zondo commission of inquiry into State Capture, will blow the lid on high-level corruption, State Capture and money-laundering by his former employer.

Bosasa, now trading as African Global Group, is close to the ANC and in December it emerged that CEO Gavin Watson had made a personal donation of R500,000.00 to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign to become ANC president in 2017.

If Agrizzi’s testimony plays out as the summary before the Zondo commission of inquiry has suggested, it will dwarf the capture and corruption by the Gupta family.

In its first three months, that family was at the epicentre of almost all testimony; that changed today as another family took its place.

The Watson family hail from the Eastern Cape, where Cheeky Watson’s decision to play rugby with black South Africans and forego a Springbok cap in the Eighties made them local heroes. They were close to former Eastern Cape premier Makhenkesi Stofile and were activists in the liberation movement.

The family, led by Gavin Watson, parlayed this influence into a massive security and facilities conglomerate which has made billions of rand from state contracts.

Agrizzi is likely to implicate himself in the instances of corruption which he will lay bare.

Late last year, Agrizzi revealed that Bosasa had made payments and security installations at the home of ANC MP Vincent Smith who, as a result of the allegations, stepped down as chairperson of a special parliamentary committee which chaired hearings into land expropriation without compensation.

News24 reports also revealed that ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe had had security installed at his Boksburg home and at two Eastern Cape properties by Bosasa.

Agrizzi’s first day of testimony traced Bosasa’s genesis as a highly politically connected company called Dyambu. Dyambu sought to win catering contracts on the mines and it paid bribes to officials of the National Union of Mineworkers to get them to exert political pressure on Goldfields in order to win its first tenders. Later on, Bosasa would perfect the strategy of using trade unions to gain traction in huge security and catering deals at the country’s prisons, airports and elsewhere. It also runs the refugee repatriation facility called Lindela.

With four burly bodyguards around him, Agrizzi’s testimony has been kept top secret by the State Capture inquiry. The inquiry’s head of legal, Paul Pretorius told deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, who chairs the commission, that attempts had been made to pay off Agrizzi to silence him; when that failed, other “coercive methods” had been deployed against him and his family.

While the threats do not shake him, he recognises and accepts his life is in danger,” said Pretorius. “Once his evidence is in the public domain, the motivation to silence him will fall away,” added the evidence leader, who added that by making the allegations public, this would provide Agrizzi with “the best protection possible”.

As Agrizzi started his testimony, lawyers for the State Capture inquiry were busy on the phones, calling all the big names that the former Bosasa executive is likely to implicate in his testimony. Usually, the commission alerts people to be named in testimony ahead of time, but it asked Zondo’s permission to forego the practice because Agrizzi’s life was perceived to be in danger.

Not only has his identify not been disclosed (until Wednesday), but no person implicated has been given notice. We must emphasise we approach the evidence with caution. It could be fabricated, distorted, or motivated by improper motive (or) it could be reliable, true and correct,” Pretorius told Judge Zondo. Early investigations by the commission had shown that various parts of Agrizzi’s testimony are true.

The evidence has been and continues to be studied and those implicated can put forward their versions. Our submission is that the evidence should be heard. It is manifestly in the public interest that the information should be heard,” said Pretorius. Zondo ruled that it could be heard.

Asked for comment on Agrizzi’s testimony, Executive Director for African Global Operations, Papa Leshabane said it would be premature to do so as Agrizzi’s testimony was still ongoing. DM

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